The Secret Ingredient

Life. I love the unpredictably of it, especially when it is full of pleasant surprises, that is. Surprises keep it interesting and fun! A couple of weeks ago, I was unexpectedly invited to accompany a friend on a trip to a Buddhist monastery in southern California. That was certainly not on my agenda and would definitely be a new experience.

The day after our arrival, we attended the Sunday service and pot luck provided by the congregation mostly of Thai people. I was amazed at the vivid display of foods: noodles, roasted vegetables, salads, rice, meat, fruit, fancy pastries, breads, and condiments and so on. Imagine 60 or maybe 70 dishes spread out on 50 foot long table. Each dish was thoughtfully prepared and was a visual feast as well as a culinary one. I’ve never seen anything so . . . over the top of the top. I was beyond impressed by the explosion of creativity and outpouring of loving generosity from the community.

While I was waiting my turn in line, I started a conversation with another guest. She proudly told me about her “Burmese Rice”, a recipe that had been in her family for many generations. I told her how taken aback I was about the display of carefully prepared foods. I asked her “What is different about this than, say, an elaborate buffet at a nice restaurant, club, cruise, or casino?” I loved her sense of humor. She replied “No cheat and heat here”.

Over the next few days, I contemplated that question and I believe I have the answer. Love. Love was definitely the common ingredient. The food was filled to the brim with the spirit of love, almost as if the food absorbed it, much like a sponge would. We don’t tend to think of “love” as being an ingredient, because it is intangible and cannot be measured. For instance my friend Rachel, who is learning how to bake with sourdough starter, said that heat is a key ingredient in the fermentation process. And although heat is invisible, the effects it creates are tangible and real. In the case of sourdough starter, warmth makes lots of bubbles that cause the starter to expand and come to life.

While I was in the library at the monastery, I read these quotes, attributed to Buddha: “If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart”. And, “When you like a flower, you just pluck it. When you love a flower, you water it daily.” Love is abundant, powerful, not subject to food inflation and can be used freely in big amounts. Go for it!